June 24, 2008

Does Wava Have the Beat?

By Malcolm Venable, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Jun. 24--BY MALCOLM VENABLE -- The Virginian-Pilot

THE BOYS IN THE BAND Wava do not want it to be known as a cute boy band, but there are many factors working against them.

Good looks worthy of tween magazine posters? Yes. Precocious charm? Check. Distinct personalities as marketable as the heroes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Check, check check check and check.

Jackson Breit, 17-year-old lead singer/guitarist, is eccentric and perpetually unlucky with the ladies. Niraj Patel, the 18-year-old keyboardist, is studying political science at Yale and is the group's unofficial herder, keeping everyone on task. Geoff Cole, the 17-year-old bassist, is the mature, disciplined one. Bucky Henry, youngest of the group at 15, is the energetic, rambunctious drummer. Kyle Watts, 17-year-old guitarist, is laid back and fond of rocking an Afro, tie-dye and corduroy. All of them, save Patel, go to Norfolk Academy.

They don't have a "thing." They don't dance like *NSYNC. They do not croon like Boyz II Men. GQ won't deem them style icons a la The Jonas Brothers. Wava simply melds churning reggae grooves with upbeat emo-rock. They sound very good, making for a fresh and modern Virginia Beach sound that would not be out of place in an Oceanfront bar -- if they were old enough to get into bars.

"Jamaica," their breakout song, has been getting heavy airplay in Australia, New Zealand, Amsterdam and Israel, thanks in part to the efforts of their manager, Bill Reid, one of the owners of The NorVa in Norfolk. In its video, Wava plays to howling fans at The NorVa (where they appeared in a sold-out show with the Sublime tribute band Badfish in January 2007), on the beach and in a garage surrounded by surfboards and their equally photogenic friends, clutching plastic cups.

"We were all embarrassed by the video," says Breit, whose songwriting and guitar-playing abilities are even more impressive considering he is deaf in his right ear. "That hurt our reputation at school -- they were joking us like, 'Here's the boy band.' " Nonetheless, nearly 5,000 people have watched it online, leaving mostly favorable feedback. This year, the video won a Telly Award, which honors local programming and independent video, and the video has become a hit in Canada.

This summer they will play at The Stone Pony, the famed New Jersey rock club that was important in the careers of Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.

Where they go after that great gig remains part of the great unknown. Breit's father, for one, is adamant that Jackson go to college, but their future in the business is being discussed now by labels who want to give them a deal. Among these is Lyric Street Records, which is a division of, appropriately, Disney.

Watching Wava's "Jamaica" video, it's clear why Disney came calling. It is low-budget, certainly, but nonetheless captures what is so compelling about them: a scrubbed, carefree surfer lifestyle you imagine is as exciting and glamorous as that of the riveting brats on "Gossip Girl."

Not that they're trying to exploit their backgrounds.

"They don't want to look like privileged, private-school students," says Breit's father, Jeffrey, who runs one of the region's top malpractice firms. Because of his own music background and connections, he and his songwriting son are both able to vote in the Grammys. Wava's boys, the elder Breit says, don't think of themselves as the "types that finish Norfolk Academy and then go to U.Va.," but more as "surf kids who play rock and roll music."

Just about every week, the band -- minus Patel, who listens to new songs over the phone and comes home to rehearse them in time for a show -- practices in Breit's grandmother's attic. And the attic is not so much an attic as a one-bedroom flat overtop the garage of Breit's next-door-neighbor, who happens to be his grandmother.

It is the ideal high school chill pad, with three couches, a mini-fridge and microwave, black lights projecting a psychedelic glaze on the walls and the spirits of Dr. Dre, Biggie Smalls, the Stones and Hendrix presiding over the room via posters.

Rehearsals are also gatherings for their social set.

"People come over because they know we're practicing," says Jackson. "This is the place to be when it gets good." Every so often, a parent of a Wava member will drop in unannounced to ensure no one is misbehaving.

Wava's Palace, as it's called, is in the Linkhorn Park section of the Beach, where a lush, green golf course marks the entrance of the subdivision. You can practically see the Oceanfront from there, and marinas and restaurants nearby are the kind of visual treats that help inspire songs about water, girls and teenage life.

"La Promenade" -- not the posh Hilltop shopping center just up the road, mind you, but a song from an upcoming EP -- was inspired by a friend who took a supposedly swell sweetie to the prom, only to discover she was a total witch.

"They have this ability to blend classic rock with reggae and -- I hate to say label it this -- but Disney pop," says local musician Doc Holiday, who produced and arranged their record. "But that's what it is. What they're pulling off musically is not teeny bop. But they're cute kids. If you can imagine, it's like Hannah Montana with an edge."

Cinematic, it is, so perfectly Teen Beat ready that you can practically hear the Wal-Mart cash registers ringing up lunch boxes and T-shirts featuring their faces. Even their name sings. Wava. Sounds watery, right? Reggae rock, cool drinks on the beach, taking it easy Virginia Beach-style, yes?

Wava is actually the name of Breit's grandmother, Wava Reigel. She is a rockin' nana who likes Cher and Elton John and went to see Michael Buble when he was here in March.

"I was glad for them to use my name," she said. Her mother read it in a book, the title of which she doesn't recall. She has only met two other Wavas in her life. "I love music. I'll be here watching the news, and they don't bother me at all. I know where they are. And not everybody can say they have a rock and roll band named after them."

Malcolm Venable, (757) 446-2662, [email protected]


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